When I first started consulting in channel management, the role of the Channel Manager – or Channel Account Manager (CAM) – was poorly defined. In other words, nobody went to school to prepare for the job description of the Channel Manager. Organizations believed that the skill set of a direct salesperson translated directly to channel management. As a result, candidates drawn from the direct sales force were given very little training and very primitive tools. Consequently, there were a lot of miss-steps! Key learnings from those years include:
– Firstly, Channels are not customers. They are not “always right”. Saying “no” in a way that preserves the relationship is a key part of the job. And “more” is not always “better” – especially if your portfolio is very technical. In addition to being targeted at a very specific market and requiring very specific expertise.
– Secondly, Channels are not employees. Power is not a “given”. This is because you don’t control the partners paycheck. You can’t really tell a partner what they “must” do. Channel managers have to earn their power by providing added value day in and day out.
Also, in those early years, channel managers were assigned to all – or most – partners in a vendor’s network. A high premium was placed on optimizing “face time” which, in my research, accounted for about 30% of the channel manager’s total time.
Today, a channel manager job description is almost unrecognizable. Channel managers are a well-trained cadre of professionals – usually focusing on the “top 20%” of the ecosystem where their job is to preserve and grow the most strategic partner relationships. For example “Face time” has given way to “quality time”, enabled by powerful channel automation tools. Good thing – because the competition for mind share and share of business has never been fiercer.
A relatively expensive resource, channel managers must deliver a solid return for the organizations they serve.
In the formula above, channel manager loaded cost divided by the average % cost of sale gives the minimum sales required, if the vendor is to break even on this resource.
Sales – and the technical expertise required – while necessary, are insufficient skills in themselves. The most valued and therefore successful channel managers understand that their job description is essentially a financial one that requires:
Unlike a direct salesperson who reports to a VP of Sales within his or her own organization, the channel manager has roles to play with both vendor and partners.
– Recruiting the right partners with specific expertise and maret coverage required by the vendor’s go-to-market strategy
– Maintaining partner competence through certifications and training
– Identifying and resolving partner performance and participation issues before they impact vendor market performance
– Ensuring that partners know how to do business with the vendor, including proficient use of the vendor’s tools
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1. A Channel Advocate – communicating highly valuable information back to the vendor about:
– The impact of programs and policies on the partners’ various business models – “explaining how the effect of decisions hits the partners’ top and bottom lines”.
– Local market conditions, including opportunities and threats
– Changes to a partner’s business strategy that requires a coordinated vendor response
2. A Trusted Advisor capable of building a solid business relationship based on economics. This includes:
– Construction of a solid business value proposition during recruiting
– Advice on how to grow the business with new offers, new markets, new promotions and funds (eg. MDF).
– Identification of options and migration paths to new business models to adapt to changing market conditions
– Construction of an ROI on partner investments in training, certifications and offers
1. A Resource Coordinator making sure that the vendor’s resources – technical and sales support (including product teams, product specs, white papers, best practices and testimonials), relevant programs and policies, and opportunities for field coordination, are identified and made available to partners as needed.
2. A Conflict Manager responsible for customer-centric field engagement throughout the ecosystem. For example:
– Policy implementation
– Program implementation (eg. Deal Registration)
As the job description for the Channel Manager has evolved, so too has the tools that support this critical function. Unquestionably, automated platforms such as Channel Mechanics create a full, real-time profile of each partner’s performance on multiple dimensions – and also provide easy access to support tools such as Deal Registration and MDF. In conclusion, it’s hard to imagine channel managers functioning without these improvements.
In a recent webinar I attended, the speaker observed that: “In the lean times, the hunter sharpens his tools.” This time does, indeed, offer us all the opportunity to assess our skills and determine which, if any, need “sharpening” in order to prepare for the coming seasons of plenty.